September 2006
Featured Articles

Little People, Little Ponds, and Big Bass

by John Howle

  Jake Howle proudly displays a three-pound bass he caught with a Texas-rigged plastic worm from a farm pond.
When we hauled square bales of hay on our family farm, we used a 1972 Chevrolet truck. It was a one-ton flatbed with no air conditioning, black vinyl seats, and an AM radio. In humid, 102 degree weather with hay sticking to your back, nothing makes you scream more than leaning back shirtless against black, vinyl seats that have had all day to absorb the sun’s heat. Hauling hay involved hard, honest work, but I knew if we finished in time, there would be daylight left for bass fishing in the farm pond.

Small, farm ponds are ideal proving grounds for getting youngsters hooked on fishing. Once the young angler battles wits and water with a brawling, largemouth bass, he or she will be hooked on fishing for life, and the best part is, there’s no large investment in an expensive boat or elaborate tackle. All you need to equip the youngster with is bait and a fishing rod. For the adult, a fishing net helps guarantee the catch will be caught.

Get comfortable

Even in September, a farm pond with little or no shade can be frustrating for youngsters to fish if it’s around midday. Remedy the situation by creating your own shade. I’ll drive a metal T-post into the ground and use duct tape to secure a large, stadium umbrella to the post. This creates a comfortably shady spot for two to fish under. Don’t drive the post into the ground too deep so you can push your shade post at angles as the sun moves.

Don’t forget to bring a few snacks or drinks to the pond. Youngsters seem to get hungry and thirsty faster than the bass driven adults who take them fishing. You can put the drinks and snacks into a reasonably large cooler or simply use a clean five-gallon bucket. Either container can double as a seat or convenient way to carry the fish you are sure to catch back to the house.

Look under round bales of hay that have been stored outside. You’ll find a multitude of worms, grubs, and crickets for live bait fishing.  
Spare the rod and spoil the child

Young children, for instance, age four to six, may find that pressing a button, slinging bait, and cranking the reel can be a bit cumbersome for their young hands and fingers. If this is the case, a simple cane pole would be the best option. Cut a few cane poles at least seven feet long and allow them to dry for a couple of weeks before fishing. This will stiffen the rod and make it easier to haul in fish.

The biggest advantage of cane pole fishing is the fact that the child only has to lift the tip of the cane pole and swing it around to get fish out of the pond. Rig the cane pole with a length of fishing string, hook, and live bait. A floating bobber and weight to keep the bait deep is optional.

For children older than five or six, or for that matter, adults, a spincast reel with a medium action rod is a problem free choice for fishing. The Zebco 33 has been a fishing industry standard for many years because of its simple action and easy casting and retrieving. Avoid baitcasters with children unless you want to spend your outing detangling a backlash that resembles a bird’s nest in the reel.
The debate over bait

For younger children, live bait such as crickets, worms, and grubs are productive for snagging bass as well as any panfish that might be in the area. You can buy crickets in a tube, worms in a cup or minnows; but often, the best bait is found right there on the farm. Roll a round bale of hay that has been stored outside a half turn and you will often find all the worms, grubs, and crickets you need for fishing.

  For children experienced with spincast reels, a Texas-rigged weedless rubber worm is ideal.
For older children who are familiar with the spincast and steady, cranking retrieves, a Texas-rigged rubber worm is ideal. For this rig, you will have an offset hook sitting under a bullet weight. Run the hook into the mouth of the worm and exit about ¼ to ½-inch below the entry point. Slide the worm above the offset "L" just below the hook eye, and run the hook halfway into the worm’s underbelly.

This will create a lure that is weedless and virtually snag free. If the bass gives a solid strike, he’ll bite through the rubber into the hook snagging himself. The youngster can easily move the weighted lure across the pond bottom with a slow retrieve. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits also do an exceptional job targeting big bass, but youngsters often get these lures snagged on submerged limbs, and other aquatic obstacles.

Look for bass structure

If you are fishing your own pond, you already know where the common bass hangouts are. If it’s an unfamiliar pond, look for bass holding areas such as submerged limbs, deep grass, or woody  vegetation growing over the pond edge. If there is no holding structure and the pond is relatively free of debris, look for a feeder stream bringing water into the pond.

Having the youngster retrieve the Texas-rigged worm across this underwater channel can give some solid strikes especially when the water temperature is warm and the feeder stream is cooler. The feeder channel also brings in small minnows and tadpoles making it a common checkpoint for cruising bass.
  At right, John and Jake Howle make use of a stadium umbrella duct taped to a metal T-post for quick shade anywhere around the pond.

Most farm ponds can be productively fished from the bank eliminating the need for a boat. Having the youngster cast and retrieve at a slight angle or parallel with the bank when using a worm or other artificial bait should result in some solid strikes. Casting to the side of submerged logs and limbs also works well with the Texas-rigged plastics.

Remember, you are fishing with an inexperienced angler, and any thing you can do to create a comfortable, safe environment during the trip will result in positive memories and turn the child into an angler for life. Keep it simple, keep it fun, and keep it safe.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.